Reduce Stress and Improve Cardiovascular Function with Slow Yogic Breathing
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Shallow breathing over time can contribute to feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety. Becoming aware of your breath through targeted yoga breathing exercises can prevent many of these issues from developing within the body.” – Yoga U
Stress is an integral part of life. In fact, I’ve quipped that the definition of death is when stress ceases. People often think of stress as a bad thing. But, it is in fact essential to the health of the body. In fact, we invest time and resources in stressing ourselves, e.g ridding rollercoasters, sky diving, competing in sports, etc. We say we love a challenge, but, challenges are all stressful. So, we actually love to stress ourselves. In moderation, it is healthful and provides interest and fun to life. If stress, is high or is prolonged, however, it can be problematic. It can damage our physical and mental health and even reduce our longevity, leading to premature deaths. So, it is important that we develop methods to either reduce or control high or prolonged stress or reduce our responses to it.
Mindfulness practices, including yoga practice, have been found routinely to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. Yoga, however, consists of a number of components including, poses, breathing exercises, meditation, concentration, and philosophy/ethics. So, it is difficult to determine which facet or combination of facets of yoga are responsible for which benefit. Alternate nostril yoga breathing is a regulated breathing alternating between the left and right nostril. Breathing through each nostril is thought to affect its respective hemisphere in the brain producing differential effects.
In today’s Research News article “. Effect of Modified Slow Breathing Exercise on Perceived Stress and Basal Cardiovascular Parameters.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5769199/ ), Naik and colleagues examine the slow alternate nostril breathing practice of yoga and its effectiveness for stress reduction. They recruited health males, 18-30 years of age, and randomly assigned them to either 30-minutes in the morning, 5-times per week for 12 weeks slow alternate nostril breathing practice or a no-treatment control conditions. The were measured before and after the 12-week practice period for perceived stress, body size, heart rate, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
They found that after the 12-weeks of slow alternate nostril breathing practice there were significant reductions in perceived stress, heart rate, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Hence, the practice appeared to reduce stress effects and relax the cardiovascular system. These results should provide the encouragement for a larger randomized controlled trial which includes a comparison to other components of yoga practice, e.g. relaxation, postures, meditation, to determine which components are most effective in combating stress. Regardless, the results are encouraging and suggest that slow alternate nostril breathing practice is effective in reducing psychological and physiological responses to stress.
So, reduce stress and improve cardiovascular function with slow yogic breathing.
“Yoga breathing can help you achieve balance in both your body and mind. In fact, researchers have found that regularly practicing yoga breathing can have the following benefits: reduce anxiety and depression, lower and/or stabilize blood pressure, increase energy levels, relax muscles, and decrease feelings of stress and being overwhelmed.” – Lung Institute
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch
- Sunil Naik, G.S. Gaur, G.K. Pal. Effect of Modified Slow Breathing Exercise on Perceived Stress and Basal Cardiovascular Parameters. Int J Yoga. 2018 Jan-Apr; 11(1): 53–58. doi: 10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_41_16
Different types of breathing exercises have varied effects on cardiovascular parameters and the stress levels in an individual.
The aim of this study was to assess the effect of a modified form of isolated alternate nostril, slow breathing exercise on perceived stress, and cardiovascular parameters in young, male volunteers.
Settings and Design:
This was a randomized control study carried out at Advanced Centre for Yoga Therapy Education and Research, Department of Physiology, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Puducherry in 2014.
Subjects and Methods:
Hundred healthy male volunteers were randomized into control group, n = 50 and slow breathing group (study), n = 50. Slow breathing exercise training was given to study group for 30 min a day, 5 times/week for 12 weeks, under the supervision of certified yoga trainers. Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) using Cohen’s questionnaire, anthropometric parameters such as body mass index (BMI), waist-hip ratio (WHR), and cardiovascular parameters such as heart rate (HR), systolic blood pressure (SBP), and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) were recorded at baseline and after 12 weeks. The control group did not receive any intervention. Slow breathing exercise training was provided for the study group. During the study period, one volunteer opted out of the study group due to personal reasons.
HR, SBP, DBP, and PSS decreased significantly (P < 0.05) in the study group following 12 weeks slow breathing exercise training, while no significant change (P > 0.05) was observed in BMI and WHR. There was no significant change in the control group.
Twelve weeks of modified slow breathing exercise reduced perceived stress and improved the cardiovascular parameters. The above results indicate that our modified slow breathing exercise is effective in reducing stress and improving the cardiovascular parameters.